Renowned for his signature style and pioneering work in ska, Lester Sterling, OD, stands as a cornerstone in the development of Jamaican music. Born in 1936 in Kingston, Jamaica, Sterling’s influential work as an alto saxophonist spanned the genres of ska, rocksteady, and reggae, positioning him as a vital figure in the international music scene.
Sterling began his musical journey in his teens, studying music at the famed Alpha Boys School in Kingston. He emerged as a gifted saxophonist, his style distinguished by its fluidity, warm tone, and rhythmic sophistication — traits that would come to define his contributions to the burgeoning Jamaican music scene.
In the early 1960s, Sterling’s career took a transformative turn when he became a founding member of The Skatalites, a group that played a central role in the creation and popularization of ska. Sterling’s saxophone playing was integral to the band’s sound, imbuing their music with melodic grace and infectious energy.
During his time with The Skatalites, Sterling helped shape the sound of ska, contributing to seminal tracks that fused jazz sensibilities with Caribbean rhythms, ultimately creating a new and exciting genre. The band’s influence extended beyond Jamaica, introducing international audiences to ska and paving the way for the global popularity of Jamaican music.
Sterling’s contributions were not limited to The Skatalites. As a session musician for the legendary Studio One in Jamaica, Sterling played on numerous tracks that defined the rocksteady and early reggae eras. His saxophone lines added a distinctive flavor to countless songs, underscoring his versatility and his ability to adapt to evolving musical styles.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Sterling continued to perform and record with various iterations of The Skatalites, as well as other artists, maintaining his position as a stalwart of the Jamaican music scene. His contributions to the genre are immortalized in albums such as “Ska Authentic” and “Ska Voovee,” testaments to his enduring talent and musical vision.
Lester Sterling passed away in 2023, leaving behind an incredible musical legacy. His groundbreaking work with The Skatalites and his contributions to the development of ska, rocksteady, and reggae continue to resonate, marking him as a pivotal figure in the annals of music history. Sterling’s enduring influence and the timeless appeal of his music ensure his place as one of the most celebrated saxophonists in the genre of Jamaican music.
Page last updated 7/5/2023.